CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY AT PIRAMÓNT | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION | HUMAN RIGHTS
VILNIUS—The international petition launched by Ruta Bloshtein, a native and resident of Vilnius, has today reached the 50,000 signature mark. People of diverse background and many countries are among the signatories. Opponents of the disturbing idea to site a convention center in the heart of the old Jewish cemetery (with extant graves, albeit not stones, on all four sides), has been resolutely opposed by rabbis in Lithuania in recent years, including, in alphabetical order, chief rabbi of nine years’ standing Chaim Burshtein (who was fired in 2015 for speaking out); Rabbi S. J. Feffer (a Gaon of Vilna scholar who has been based in Vilnius for decades, and issued edicts in Hebrew and English); Rabbi Kalev Krelin, now based in Riga, who was one of the first to sign Ms. Bloshtein’s petition, along with Chabad rabbi Sholom-Ber Krinsky, who has lived in the city for over a quarter century with his family and is now official rabbi of the one functioning synagogue. Only partly in jest, Vilnius residents say this is the first time these rabbis have agreed on much of anything.
In 2020, three new initiatives have arisen, Save Vilna based in the US and Israel; Respect the Cemetery, based in Vilnius; the UCSJ in Washington DC, which has joined the international campaign, and has spearheaded a multifaith appeal to the American secretary of state. These new projects feature Christian-Jewish and Lithuanian-Litvak partnerships.
International opposition to the “convention center in the Jewish cemetery” project has come from three US senators and twelve congressmen, ten members of the Israeli Knesset, the chief rabbis of Israel and South Africa, and a large array of others, including locally, the democratically elected chair of the Vilnius Jewish Community.
The one group of London “grave trading rabbis” who allegedly “sell permissions” for desecration of East European Jewish cemeteries were over the years exposed by Wikileaks, the Jerusalem Post and JTA.
Last month, the three major Lithuanian tourist agencies got together to stage a stunt (real or photoshop-faked) featuring hundreds of chairs with mock one thousand euro notes (evoking an age-old antisemitic trope) on top of the extant Jewish graves at the cemetery (in front of the Soviet-era ruin that was a “sports palace”. See reports in JTA and the Algemeiner Journal.
Defending History has been on the case for “five long years” documenting its eerie ins-and-outs.